Sunday, December 9, 2012

Meditative Jump Roping

~swish SMACK thump ~ swish SMACK thump ~ 
~swish SMACK thump ~

Arms and legs move in perfect synchronicity as I jump with a rapid cadence.  I change up the jump skill to vary the muscles used, but other than that, this exercise is extremely repetitive. Swing, jump, swing, jump, over and over and over.  Surprisingly, I never become bored or frustrated.  This is mainly because I have been able to use this movement to experience something deeper: a meditative state of being.

Sometimes I focus on sound, sometimes it's my breath, many times I just feel the power of my feet propelling my body from the floor and lightly making contact with the earth again.  All the while, I am calm & focused.

It is possible to experience meditation with any repetitive exercise.  Running, walking, swimming, and skating all help to keep our bodies healthy while our minds are trained in awareness.  Of course it is possible to "zone out" instead, or rely on the distraction of music while engaging in these sports, and I'd bet that's when most injuries happen.  When we are aware of how our bodies are responding and can distinguish between objective thoughts and those of the ego, it is really hard to push yourself beyond your limits and become injured.

So why do I love jump roping in particular?
  • It feels good!
  • I feel youthful doing it, but with greater skill than my younger self!
  • It only takes 15-20 minutes to reap the same benefits as running or walking for longer periods.  For a busy mom, short exercise routines are a must!
  • I can do it anywhere and only need my trusty rope.
  • It gives my mind space - not to roam, but instead to tune in. 
  • It's fun to do with children.  My son is still little, but he can't wait to learn how so we can jump together.

Here is my beauty, a simple speed rope:

And if you are interested in learning more about jump roping, here is an excellent book written by US Olympian and Master Jumper Buddy Lee:

You can also check out the Jump Rope Institute.

Jump roping is seriously good exercise, for body & mind.  I encourage you to give it a try!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Remembering My First Experience with Meditation

For many of us who practice meditation, the discipline was adopted during a very difficult period in our lives.  Meditation, especially vipassana or mindful awareness, eventually shows us where disharmony exists in our lives, and gives us tools to pull us up and out of our personal mess.

Here is a brief background on my "personal mess".  My mother raised my sister and I by herself until she remarried when I was in high school.  We never had a lot of money and she did not value education.  She declared one day in my Senior year of high school that I couldn't go to college because she couldn't afford it (without looking into financial aid options or anything else that could help me).  I felt this was so unfair and sad because I loved to learn and had so much potential.  She figured I was self-sufficient and she focused instead on her job, her new marriage, and my younger siblings. So after high school, I sought out part-time jobs to pay for my community college education while I continued to live at home with my family.

After completing my lower division courses, I transferred to the local State University.  Around the same time, I found a full-time job, moved into a studio apartment, and started using financial aid to help pay for my tuition (also incurring major credit card debt).

It was extremely difficult to balance work and university studies.  It did not help, of course, that I chose a very difficult major.  I trudged along trying to complete my Biology degree without really enjoying the advanced coursework.  I had to get through this!  Most of my grades were very average.  Some were really bad (Calculus).  I gained ~ 20 lbs.  I drank massive amounts of coffee to stay awake and smoked cigarettes as a way to cope emotionally.  It was difficult to have meaningful romantic relationships.

Somehow, I was doing really well in my new position at this environmental testing laboratory I was working at.  That is where I placed my energy, and where I received the most help.

My supervisor was the angel who suggested that I attend an "Intro to Meditation" workshop they were having at my company after hours.  I sat among my co-workers, all at least 10 years older than I, and wondered why I had been asked to join the group.

One of the exercises made quite an impression on me.  The instructor asked us to pick up a single raisin from many that she had on the tray.  First we described the raisin to each other.  We noted it's size, it's texture, it's color, and it's smell.  Then we didn't just "eat" the raisin.  We salivated, chewed it, tasted it, felt the change in the raisin's structure as it turned to liquid, and swallowed the syrupy goodness.  Our senses were alive and these simple details became important as we put them in the foreground of our awareness.

I was able to experience a raisin as I never had before!  And I appreciated my body for the pleasure of it's sweet taste.  It occurred to me that if I had overlooked the simple details of eating, what else was I missing?  And I noted that as I "meditated" on eating the raisin, I was calm and focused.

This was the seed that was planted in my consciousness so long ago.  It took much more hardship and many mindfulness experiences to really understand how meditation could help me.  After several years, it become part of my life.

I immersed myself in the practice and found my teachers.  At that point, compassion, patience, and understanding replaced the desperation, self-loathing, and worry that I clung to as a young adult.  And with fine-tuned awareness, I was able to make choices that placed me on this life path that feels most authentic.


Comments are welcome!  I would love to hear how YOU discovered meditation and made it a priority in your life.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nutritional Healing With Pumpkin

Pumpkin Custard, Hold the Dairy by llsimon53 

I wrote earlier about my love of Autumn and how it's necessary to change our activity level, diet, and lifestyle in order to stay healthy through the seasonal transition.  When it comes to diet, I think most everyone in the US would agree that pumpkin is THE food of Autumn.

Pumpkin is also a valuable remedy in Traditional Chinese Medicine dietetics.  According to the Tao of Nutrition by Maoshing Ni, Ph.D., C.A., pumpkin has a cool and sweet nature.  Therefore, it can help with many "heat" or inflammatory conditions such as dysentery, diabetes, eczema, and stomachaches.

Our family is fond of roasting sugar pie pumpkins and using the pureé for loads of recipes we've collected over the years.  While canned pumpkin is affordable and very convenient, we try to avoid canned foods due to BPA in the lining.

Here is a super easy way to roast & pureé a pumpkin.  Use the pureé in you favorite pie, custard or pancake recipe.  Or better yet, add it to yogurt, oatmeal, or simply season it with cinnamon & honey and eat it as is!

Roasted Pumpkin
1) Heat oven to 400°F.
2) Cut out a hole at the top of the pumpkin and just like you're going to carve it, go ahead and scoop out the insides, placing the seeds into a bowl of water if choosing to save them for roasting separately.
3) Place pumpkin on baking sheet and cook for 40 minutes.
4) Fit top back on pumpkin and bake for another 20 minutes or until tender.
5) Remove top again and cool until easy to handle.
6) Scoop out the pumpkin and either mash, run it through a food mill, or pureé in a blender/food processor.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autumn Reflection

Autumn Canopy by -Liyen- 2009

Autumn is here! 

We see tree leaves change colors, we feel the air become cooler, and experience shorter sun-shiny days.   We adjust the clocks, dress warmer, and perhaps we indulge in the local fruits and vegetables that are harvested at this time.  But how do you adjust to Autumn internally?

In Toaism, the philosophy that Chinese Medicine is based on, we humans are considered microcosms of nature.  And if we are unable or unwilling to adjust our activity level and diet to that of the season, we may fall ill. Much is written about this subject and I won't add more repetition.  If you'd like to learn more, this article offers fantastic tips on how we can align with the energy of Autumn:

But what IS the energy of Autumn?  We look at the yin/yang energy in nature (particularly the yang energy of the sun) to guide us.  Yang energy is considered bright, vibrant, light, hot, masculine, motivating, expanding and invigorating in contrast to Yin energy which is darker, duller, cooler, feminine, relaxing, introspective, and introverted.  The energy of the sun is at it's most yang at the summer solstice, often the hottest period of the year.  From there, it decreases until yang & yin are equal at the Autumn equinox.  The energy decreases further until it's most yin at the Winter solstice where it then rises again to find yin/yang balance at the Spring equinox.  It rises again to it's most yang height at summer again.

The energy of Autumn is decreasing, becoming more yin.  Can you feel it?  We naturally want to slow down, turn inward, reflect on what is important in our lives, purge what is unnecessary, gather what we truly need, and store up for the yin of winter where we rest & rejuvenate.  This seasonal transition is the most difficult for our culture because many value productivity & celebration, and assume that energy comes from MORE energy/activity.  Not so, according to nature.  Rest is absolutely necessary.  And yin is just as important as yang because they are dependent on and transform into each other continuously.

Another reason this transition is difficult is that the shift in seasons may not be so noticeable (like in our lovely California). That is my excuse, as our family has had a hard time adjusting too.  My son started his 2nd year of nursery school (just 2 days for 2.5 hrs each, with my participation - not a big deal.)  After the first week, he and I were both down with a yucky head cold.  Thank you Universe!  I hear you loud and clear, and we are now making changes in our household.

We're slowing down.  This is hard to do with a toddler who is letting go of his naps.  When overtired, he spirals up for the rest of the afternoon (as I become more irritable) until he crashes at 7:30pm.  Though we love the early bedtime, the increased activity in the evening can't be that great for my son's immune system without his afternoon rest.  I've been trying to introduce a quiet time instead.  Audio books from the library are my quiet time secret weapon, though it will take awhile for it to become a daily ritual.  At least we're trying...

I'm turning inward.  I've been dealing with my own physical imbalances throughout summer.  My mental chatter and emotional reactivity is creating stagnation in my body and leaving me feeling very uptight.  The loss of my toddler's nap is definitely not helping.  The best medicine for me is yoga, acupuncture, & meditation.  Of course!  I've written about how my practice has changed since having my dear son, but it's time that I make my health a greater priority.  After it is done each evening, then perhaps I can work on my sewing, read the news, or write in this blog.  But connecting to myself through yoga absolutely has to happen each night for the benefit of the WHOLE FAMILY!  I believe healing starts on the inside and this is the perfect season to explore that.

I'm expressing gratitude and asking for forgiveness.  My dear, wise teacher Sarah Powers would often suggest that we start the morning with expressing gratitude for the new day.  Realizing that we may not have another, that life can end at any time, brings poignancy to our lives.  This is important every day, but especially during Autumn where the end of the year can feel bittersweet.  In TCM, Autumn is related to feelings of grief and sorrow.  At this time we may hold on to past feelings and memories.  Sarah also recommends that we end each evening with forgiveness.  We mentally apologize to anyone we may have offended during the day and forgive those who have offended us.  This is a great way of allowing and letting go, then sleep becomes a time where we can become whole again and start the next day with a clean slate.

We're prioritizing and paring down.  This need feels very strong for us right now.  Looking at our finances, our time, & energy level (again, trying to keep it mellow!), something has to give.  (A) I've cancelled my gym membership since I wasn't getting there often enough, and realized that I prefer my personal yoga practice and jumping rope to anything at the gym.  (B) We re-evaluated preschool after some issues arose last week, but we decided to try to make it work since our son loves it so much.  Still, we're prepared to pull him out if he's not enjoying it.  (C) We're donating many of our old appliances, old furniture, and sporting equipment to a charity rummage sale next week.  (D) Also, we may skip some of the indulgent holiday parties coming up and instead spend extra time at our cabin in the mountains.  The tree canopy colors are quite beautiful there this time of year!

Autumn is actually my favorite season on this glorious planet.  It's energy invites  us to create space in our lives for self reflection, family connection, & meaningful friendships.

I would love to hear how you are adjusting to Autumn and what you love about the season!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Best Items & Resources for New Parents

My husband and I live a pretty simple life.  We dwell in a home less than 1000 sq.ft. (one that we can truly afford, so that I can stay home with my son), we have fuel efficient cars, and spend most of our money on good quality food.  Still, when my son came along we had to fight an inner urge to buy more, More, MORE!  Here is a very short list of the things and resources that I've found most helpful.

1. Ergo Baby Carrier

I've watched many parents lugging around their babies in infant car seat carriers.  The babies look uncomfortable with their heads jiggling around and the parent is straining to one side as they accommodate the carrier and what ever else they're trying to handle.  This never made sense to me.  A friend claims that her sleeping baby does not transfer well, so it's easier to just bring the car seat into the house, the store, or wherever. However, these car seats are not beds.  They are hard, plastic contraptions that are only necessary for one thing: protecting a child from car accident impact. Do you realize how many chemicals are in these things? Read here about toxicity of car seats as well as other baby gear/furniture.  We had one of these infant car seat/carriers and it stayed in the car.  If we were to have a second child, we would buy a convertible car seat right away and skip these horrible things.  Sorry for this rant, please read on for my alternate recommendation!

I chose to keep my baby close to me in a cloth wrap/baby carrier instead.  Strapped to me, I still had two free hands that could cook (only if you're careful!), clean, hike, shop, etc.  I never had a problem transferring my son from the car seat to the carrier because he preferred to be on me.  I'd bet most babies would choose a snugly parent over hard plastic.

We started out with the Moby wrap, which was lovely for my February baby until he was 4 months old.  Then he got big and the weather started getting warmer.  We bought the Ergo carrier after a friend suggested it.  Ah, it provided such great support for my back, with weaker abdominal muscles and all.  I wore him in the front carry position until he was around 10 mo. old.  In this position, I was able to nurse him on demand fairly discreetly.  Mild back muscle strain was the clue that he was ready to be switched around.  I've worn him in the back carry position ever since.

At 2 1/2, my son walks during short trips.  We use the stroller sometimes at the zoo & amusement park when he needs to rest.  But I still break out the Ergo when we want to do a nature walk with some elevation.  He walks as much as possible and then chills in the back pack.  I love the Ergo Baby!!!

2. Weelicious

We took the easy road with feeding our child.  My son exclusively breastfed until he was ~ 7 months old and then we started introducing whole foods.  First banana, then avocado, and we took off on a food-crazed adventure from there!  Of course we used jars of baby food from time to time, but it was rare - just packed in the diaper bag for impromptu snacks or when we were on vacation.

Still, breast milk was his main source of nutrition up until ~ 18 months.  At that point, he started to drop a few feedings, and meal times with whole foods became established.  (Note: he still nurses to this day, but only to induce sleep or for emotional connection.)  It was fun looking for new, exciting recipes.  I was especially interested in learning how to incorporate more vegetables into his diet and wanted to do it soon to fend off pickiness.  This is when I found the best food blog ever!  Weelicious!

Catherine McCord at was my savior!  This site continues to be my #1 go-to resource for family meals.  With her help, my son enjoys a great variety of healthy foods.  Plus, she has fun video tutorials for certain dishes.  My son loves watching them, as they feature her kids helping out in the kitchen too!  Here are just some our favorite recipes:

I have pre-ordered her new book "Weelicious:140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes", coming out Sept. 18!  Most of the recipes in the book are NEW (not on the website.)  We're so excited!

3. Signing Time

We've read a lot about the damage TV can do to a developing mind.  It is NOT recommended for children under the age of 2.  So, we've tried to limit my son's exposure to it, but sadly, have not been able to omit it completely.  I'll be writing another post on this later.  Anyway, we bent our rules to include some educational videos.  We were involved with Baby Sign Language since our son was 11 months old.  He started signing around 13 months and his communication took off!  It was so helpful and we were so impressed, that we started to build a library of Signing Time videos.

I cannot recommend Signing Time enough!  Rachel Coleman, the host, has an incredible story that you should read more about here.  Her daughter Leah (who is deaf), Leah's cousin Alex, and their animated frog-friend Hopkins teach signs through catchy and pleasant songs.  My son still likes to watch the videos, even though he's forgotten most of the signs he knew a year ago.  They continue to be fun and interesting.  I think sign language helped him understand words and concepts very well before he started speaking.  I believe it is one of the reasons why he is so articulate for his age.

4. Melissa & Doug Toys

All toys are fun, but I am very, very picky about them!  I want them to be safe and spark my son's imagination.  I had many rules when our family asked us what to get our little boy:

  • Please, no toys that require batteries and make noise!  Children are less imaginative since the toys are doing the "play work" for them.  And I don't need to tell you how the noise gets to a tired parent.  Grrr...
  • We prefer wooden to plastic.  Wood has a nicer texture, smell, and does not contain polluting petrochemicals. 
  • Non-toxic paints only (you'd think this was standard practice but it's amazing how lead contamination is constantly in the news - it must say "non-toxic paint on the package!)  
  • Preferably made in the USA (as to avoid the previous point and support our economy)
Melissa and Doug toys meet most of my requirements.  These toys are made in China (at least the ones we have), but they have strict safety standards that I trust.

There are many USA made wooden toys out there, but they maybe hard to find.  Luckily, Melissa & Doug toys are available at just about every toy store in our town.

Our relatives do not roll their eyes at our requests, because they are just as into the play food, puzzles, trains, and other fun Melissa & Doug play things as we are.  And my son has been interested in and challenged by just about every item he's received.  These are keepers, perhaps for future generations!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Attached Mom, Detached Yogini

One day this summer, as many of us parents watched our children play in our health club toddler pool, I overheard a mother discussing her meditation teacher's advice.  "She told us that attachment is a cause of suffering and that we shouldn't be so attached to things and to other people," she commented.  Her friend gave her wide eyes and a nod.  But I was disconcerted as she seemed to be talking about her children and I really hoped that she wasn't taking this advice too literally.

Yes, in Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras", Attachment (raga) is one of the branches of Delusion (avidya) along with Aversion (dvesa), Ego (asmita), and Fear (abhinivesa).  Each alone may be responsible for us feeling separate from others in this world and for clouding our perceptions of ourselves.  As a result, we suffer.

And in Buddhist teachings, recognizing Attachment is central to it's teachings of the Four Noble Truths.  If you're not familiar with them, they are:

1) Suffering occurs
2) The cause of suffering is craving (also translated as desire or attachment)
3) It is possible to end our suffering
4) This resolution can be attained by following the Noble Eight Fold Path

I've studied both philosophies for many years and practice the tenets.  Most scholars would say that it's compulsive cravings and attachments to worldly items/materialism that is being described.  By fixating on something, we can become stuck in unhealthy patterns.  In T.K.V. Desikachar's "The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice" he explains, "We want something today because it was pleasant yesterday, not because we really need it today...We want things we do not have.  What we do have is not enough and we want more of it.  We want to keep what we are asked to give away.  This is raga."

Of course we can also become delusional by forming unhealthy attachments to certain people. We can stay in a relationship that is not working because we think we are nothing without this person. Or we may hang out with someone not because they are friendly and cool, but because they represent a certain ideal that we are trying to attain.  Blind followers of cult leaders are extreme and obvious examples of how forming an inappropriate relationship can get out of hand.

So, the problem with Attachment from the Yogic & Buddhist perspectives is that we lose ourselves when we attach to this other thing.  The whole point of these practices is to experience the opposite - intimacy with our true selves.  This is an inner experience, not affected by what we experience on the outside.  Looking closely at our lives, mindful of the choices we have made, surely we can all point out something that we are fixed on that is distracting us from living in an authentic manner.  Then, it would make sense to practice Detachment in order reconnect to oneself.

The amount of appropriate Attachment can be confusing when considering our "normal" relationships.  Of course we want to be close our partner, child, family, & friends.  This is a basic human need.  As parents, we have great responsibility in being there for our children, modeling what we think they will need to develop into loving, functional human beings.

Yet at the same, we should also know that at some point in our lives, we will lose everyone and everything that we love.  No one wants to think about having an accident, getting sick, or dying.  But by simply keeping this in mind, acknowledging that life is short and precious, it can help someone maintain a healthy distance in relationships.  We can accept that our children will have their own lives (but we're still around for support!), our partners can continue to do what interests them (we don't necessarily need to share those interests), etc.  There is definitely a lot to be said about this subject and many yogis have gone there.

Now back to that summer day at the pool -
My inner alarm sounded in response to the mom at the pool because of the parenting choices I've made.  I've adopted a style that would fit the description of "Attachment Parenting" or "Natural Family Living."  My son is still breastfeeding strong at 2.5 yrs old, we co-sleep, I stay home with him during the day, and I have never, ever left him alone to cry in order to train him to sleep or force independence.  Many people think these practices are indulgent, but to me it feels completely natural.  My son is very confident, secure, engages adults, and I can even leave him in the play care at the gym because he knows I will be there in a heartbeat if he needs me (though he hasn't asked for me yet!)  We are very attached to each other and he is well-adjusted.  If I were to have another child, I wouldn't change a thing about my approach to mothering.

I realize now that I was concerned that this woman's meditation teacher's advice could be misconstrued.  Those criticizing "Attachment Parenting" could say that hey, even the yogis say that you can ignore your child, that mothers & fathers should put their needs first, and that maybe my style of parenting is wrong or would cause me to suffer.

Well, I know it's not any of my business how this mom relates to her child.  Many of my friends do not practice Attachment Parenting, and we get along just fine.  I think caregivers need to do whatever works best for everyone, as long as the child is safe.  Stop the mommy wars!  And I certainly can't control how critics of Attachment parenting use the ancient words of Patanjali.

I do know that practicing Attachment parenting, Yoga, & Buddhism are not conflicting endeavors.  I'm doing my very best to show that all are possible.  I actually think that they create a beautiful balance in motherhood.  I can be very loving to my son, yet see clearly how he exists on his own too.  We are deeply connected, but on our own journey.  It will be interesting to see how our relationship evolves as he becomes more independent.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Raising a Sensitive Boy

When I dreamed of becoming a mother, I always imagined myself with two girls.  It's not that I preferred having girls, I just assumed there was some karmic payback sure to unload on me for being a very difficult teenager. My young mother could not control me, and my sister (only 13 months younger) and I fought constantly.  Surely, I was to have my Mom's same fate.

My Mom remarried and my brother came along when I was 15 years old.  He provided a lot of balance to our family.  We have always had a very special bond.  I was his big sister, his babysitter, his tutor, and chauffeur.  I am also close to my nephew (sister's son) who is now 11 years old.  So, I definitely know how to relate to boys.

Still, I was a little concerned when I saw my son's telling parts in the ultrasound.  I'M HAVING A BOY?!  REALLY?  My husband was so relieved!  But now we had to make the tough circumcision decision.  We argued a lot, but my husband finally conceded when I said, "Our son will come into this world as a perfect being.  Why would we need to surgically alter him?"  He could no longer say, "So he looks like me."  We decided to leave him intact, as nature intended.

I had my beautiful boy, he was happy, very attached to us, and very aware of the world.  I was STILL really concerned.  What exactly was I worried about?  My husband is wonderful, my brother and nephew are awesome despite having challenges in childhood.  But just about every other man on both sides of my family are very broken.  They are mean, macho, troubled, and more.  I do not have any models for how to raise boys well.  I have many models for what not to do.  And I feel that in many ways, boys need more nurturing than what many caregivers provide.  I needed help and started sifting through parenting books.

One of the best books I have come across is Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting."  The book is about discipline, but it is based on unconditional love.  So, I found that it addressed many questions I had about parenting in general, which I think should be based on unconditional love!

Kohn suggests that parents ask themselves what they want for their children long term and continually assess whether their approach to parenting supports this.  For example, you may want your child to be quiet and do as he/she is told right now, but is this really how you want your child to be as an adult?  Probably not.  Many parents would instead like their children to be expressive, have their own opinions, yet be respectful, etc.  So, our approach to parenting must value these characteristics in our children.  In this example, it would be more effective to listen well to our children, ask for their opinions, and treat them with respect.

I believe Kohn's suggestion is a fantastic approach to evaluating one's parenting skills, regardless of the child's sex. Doing this exercise helped me clarify what I wanted to model for my dear son.

I want him:

  • To be loved and to give love freely
  • To feel compassion for others
  • To feel valued 
  • To love his body, heart, and mind
  • Go through life confidentially yet with self-awareness and humility
  • To respect women 
  • To embrace his softer, more "feminine" side
  • To feel whole and not have to conceal his emotions in order to feel macho or fit in with any group
  • To explore the world, without limits of what is appropriate for his sex & gender.
If this is what I want for my son, then this is what we should encourage.  It felt good to outline it.  Doing so made me feel more confident, immediately.  And I realized that it was the last three bullets that concerned me about raising boy.  If I were raising a girl, I'm not sure I would worry as much about her being able to express emotions, personal style, and fitting in socially.  I have experience with that as a girl and it would be easier to talk about and model for her.

Well, so far, I think we're doing pretty well.  My son has been sensitive from the beginning and is very demanding - in a good way.  He's very clear about what he wants and trusts that we will respond in a way that we feel is appropriate.  He is interested in everything from trucks to tea parties.  He actually has no idea that many boys are not interested in having tea.  When he does find this out, I really hope that he continues to do what he wants, regardless.  At least he will always have tea at home with me.  He is his Momma's boy and we are very, very proud of him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Build Your Vocabulary and Resolve "Mommy Brain"

Before having my dear child, I would often hear other moms talk about "mommy brain", the decline of intelligence during pregnancy and beginning parenthood.  I never really believed it, especially when it was my easily distracted sister doing the complaining.

Fast-forward to now, 2.5 yrs into motherhood - I am definitely not as smart as I used to be. I have lazy speech, often not using complete sentences.  My vocabulary was never great, but now I need to pause often as I try to recall words. It's pretty bad.  Lack of sufficient sleep is probably the main cause of this decline, aided by the fact that I'm home with a toddler for most of the day.  Certainly getting more sleep and socializing with adults more could help retain my memory and intelligence. But at this point I feel like I need to learn more.  And I need to do something about this fast, or my toddler is going to pass me up with total word count!

I just happened onto this article from Good Magazine that made me feel hopeful:

This month, the magazine has a "back -to-school" theme and have committed to teaching readers something new every day. The above article focuses on vocabulary and features a few websites that can help build it. I signed up for "word of the day" at the following:

Already, I have found this to be a salutary tool for making me smarter. I have learned a new word (salutary was yesterday's word) and look forward to learning more. Patience, dear readers. I am not the best writer either, but I really enjoy it.  Hopefully this vocabulary tool with help me relay information in a more interesting manner!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Communing with Nature

This weekend, my family and I are spending time at our cabin in the woods. We're very lucky to have this retreat space and seek solitude here every month or two. Packing for the trip is always cumbersome, but once we're on the road, I feel the shift inside immediately. I naturally want to exhale deeply, letting go of any held tension. In 3 hours we are among beautiful redwoods and other evergreens. Instinctively, I lengthen my inhalations. I take in the splendor not only through my senses, but allow it to penetrate my entire being.

The air is different here - cleaner (unless there is a forest fire.)  In Eastern philosophies, it is believed that the quality of our vital energy (prana and qi) is made up of the energy we inherit from our parents and also absorbed from the food we eat and the air we breathe. Certain geographies have more refined qi.  Of course in our culture we are concerned with avoiding pollution. But most people do not realize that we are constantly benefiting from nature by simply communing with trees, water, and other natural landscapes. We do not need to take a Feng Shui course, though that can certainly help! Our health can improve by simply getting out more in natural environments and letting our cells soak up this invisible nectar.

My family has made weekend vacations to our cabin a necessity. We value the energetic gift from the land and also the quality time spent together.  Yesterday my son and I walked around our property collecting sticks, watched a woodpecker work on a diseased tree, played construction with a new cement truck toy, and I made a lot of progress with a sewing project. Today, we played around outside again, soaked up rays at Alpine Lake, and  I was able to do more yoga and qi gong than usual.  Tomorrow we will make a big breakfast, play outside a bit more, then clean and pack up. Simplicity is nourishing.

As I conclude this post, my son and husband are slumbering soundly nearby.  I'm being serenaded by hundreds of crickets. Hopefully soon, I will be lulled to sleep by their peaceful song. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Transitions for Toddlers

One of the things I admire the most about my dear son is his ability to become completely immersed in his activities.  Whether it be trains, painting, role playing or even his early morning nursing sessions, he loves what he does and expects us to be fully present as well.  We adults try to reclaim this ability to focus in our jobs and schooling.  And many of us attempt to become more aware in the moment by training through meditation.  Ahhhh, to be a child again, experiencing everything in this world with intense wonder!

Of course this one-pointed awareness has it's issues, at least with a toddler.  He does not like to get his diaper changed because it means he needs to stop what he's doing.  I can't talk about breakfast when he's nursing in the morning because all he can think about is momma's milk and he get's upset if he thinks I'll take it away.  And he's definitely not a child that can be whisked away from errand to errand in the car.  We have learned to adapt and to plan carefully around this tender being.

So, when we HAVE to do something, like that dreaded diaper change or going to an appointment, here are a few things that help our family.  Basically, we try to make ALL activities fun and interesting.

  • We outline the day and tell our son about it in small blocks of time.  It is overwhelming for him, I am sure, when I tell him everything we will do in the day.  Time for children is more circular, not linear as we adults experience it.  So, they will not keep track of what is coming next.  After we finish an activity I usually say something like, "That was fun!  Now it's time for us to do ___ ."  
  • We try to stay calm and cheerful.  My son picks up on anxious behavior and become anxious as well.  Does your child do the same?
  • Sing, sing a song.  Sing out loud!  Sing out strong!  I am the world's best singer in my child's eyes & ears, though I can barely carry a tune.  He learns best from songs and rhymes and these are welcome distractions when getting dressed or changing diapers.  
  • Other distractions - toys, books, stories we make up ourselves.
  • We "fly" to the car.  This only works if we are able to carry him, of course.
  • My husband has found his calling as "Dr. Daddy, DDS."  He creates a scene in the bathroom where my son sits in the dental chair (toilet) and asks him about his day, what he just ate, comments on his teeth, etc.  My son LOVES getting his teeth brushed by Dad.  He has had cleanings at a dental office already, so can relate to this experience and it's fun for him.
  • WE LET OUR CHILD FEEL VALUED BY HELPING OUT.  THIS IS SO HUGE THAT  I'M TYPING IT ALL IN CAPS!  HA HA!  I'M ALWAYS SPECIFIC IN HOW MY SON CAN HELP ME OUT.  I POINT OUT WHEN HE'S NOT BEING HELPFUL AND WHAT HE CAN DO INSTEAD.  Transitions to mealtimes used to be hard for us until I started recruiting my son's help in the kitchen.  He doesn't have to prepare the whole meal.  Just giving him one important thing to do makes him glow with pride.
  • We try not to over-schedule.  We usually don't go out in the car more than once a day.  It is not necessary for us.  We only shop at one grocery store and do that twice a week.  We usually have plenty of time for meals and rest.  For the most part, our life is simple and we are relaxed and happy.

Certainly a child must learn that our needs are equally as important and learning to be patient is an important skill.  However, in our family, it does not work to yell and force our child to be accommodating.  When I have become angry, I calm down, apologize, and explain my needs.  When this happens, he does seem to yield more, but I think the apology and seeing the pain and desperation in my eyes is what gets to him - definitely not the anger.  

I imagine this gets easier with age & maturity.  For now, we are joined at the heart, not so much in our minds since his is still developing.  If we relate to our children from the heart and try to treat every situation, even the dull and regular, as something wonderful, then that is what they will experience.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Body, Heart, & Mind of a Post-natal Yogini

I started taking yoga classes in my late 20s, at the time considering this my "prime". It satisfied my ego nature, as I was able to do backbends quite easily, which are some of the more challenging postures for the general population.  However, after over a decade of practice, many imbalances were revealed.  I lacked strength in my core and hamstrings and lacked flexibility in my hip flexors and gluteals.  It was frustrating that many yoga postures were still out of my reach. I even had a few instructors comment on how unusually limited I was, given how I had a flexible spine. Ouch.  Instead of letting this bother me, I grew humble and just accepted that this is how my body was.  And that humility helped greatly as my teaching experience grew. I was able to relate to my students better.  Also, I was able to focus more on meditation and energetics like qi gong.  As it should be, working with my limitations was a doorway to deeper yogic practices. 

Then I became pregnant and had my baby by an emergency c-section. 

Oh my, oh my, has my practice changed!  It is like starting all over again, except I have a very complete toolbox and know what will likely work. The amount of time put in is so different now. Before, my asana practice would usually be ~ 1 hour long in the morning or afternoon and I would meditate every evening for ~ 30 min. before bed. Now, I'm lucky if I can get 45 min. of asana (posture practice) in right before I hop into bed (if my son doesn't need me first!)  My meditation is <15 min.  Sometimes meditation is on the fly while I'm nursing or sitting at the park.  Not really "formal" at all.

Even though I practice for less time, I am definitely seeing changes.  My hips are way more open than before giving birth.  I am able to do lotus pose (padmasana) quite comfortably for the first time in my life.  Used with fish pose (matsyasana) it is helping immensely with the issues that came up for me during pregnancy and from the surgery. Note for women wishing to get pregnant: Please, never take a C-section lightly. It is a major abdominal surgery. I've had gastrointestinal  issues ever since, but that can be talked about in a later post...

So, my body is different. For some reason, I'm holding onto the last 15 lbs gained from pregnancy (and I was definitely not svelte before that!)  Still, I am continuing to heal and transform on every level. Keeping my body open is helping to make space in my heart and mind as well.  The brief contemplative practices of meditation and qi gong (maybe along with oxytocin?!) seem to be just enough to help me be a more loving mother, wife, family member, friend, neighbor, and inhabitant on this beautiful planet. 

It is our motivation, intention, and gentle approach to working with ourselves that is important, not so much what we do or how much we do.  Most long-time yogis know this. Just practice, that is yoga, regardless of life circumstances. This is hard to teach to beginners.  It is difficult for many to be still, to accept that they can't do everything, and take responsibility for what comes up in their practice.  I am glad to say that I know many students who have and are now yogis for life.  And for myself, I know that this is only the beginning. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Transforming a "Bad" Day with Loving Kindness Meditation

I was so excited for my toddler as he peddled "super fast" down the driveway. It has taken months, but he finally mastered riding his tricycle by himself. We laughed and chased his neighborhood friends until we encountered another neighbor - one who apparently does not like kids. I smiled when I first saw her. She responded with a stone cold face and then yelled at us for riding our bikes on the common town home driveway.  She told us this was against the Homeowner Association rules and then proceeded to seethe as she stormed back and forth with her garbage (trailing packing popcorn, which I couldn't help but point out to her.)

It felt so horrible to be yelled at in front of my child.  This altercation came out of nowhere and I was left with a knot in my stomach. I thought about it several hours afterwards. Were my thoughts affecting the way I was interacting with my son?  Probably. He was very emotional the rest of the day, but did not talk about the neighbor at all.  He seemed to forget the event completely.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was so flustered after this argument that I accidentally locked my son & I out of the house.  Yes, this was a very bad day. Luckily for us I had my phone handy and my husband was able to come home quickly to let us back in. 

Now, I'm not really interested in sharing my defense or talking badly about this woman.  Neither are productive and do nothing to help one feel better.  If anything, these actions produce an even greater feeling of separation or superiority in relation to the other person.  How do we forgive without needing to forget?  And how do we move on from uncomfortable encounters like this without obsessing about the details, assuming a victim mentality, and/or holding a grudge against the person who offended us? Life has given me plenty of opportunities to figure this out.  Loving kindness (Metta) meditation has consistently helped me transform a really bad day into one that is pleasant or at least insightful.  Basically, it is a meditation that helps us forgive by realizing that we all deserve to be happy on this Earth. Once my son was asleep for the night, I sat alone with a candle and began. 


Loving Kindness Meditaition

1. Bring your body into a comfortable, alert seated posture. If sitting in a chair, it's always advisable to sit near the end with your feet firmly planted on the floor so that you're still using your postural muscles to support your spine (not relying on the back of the chair).

2. Take a few deep breaths to bring your mind down into your body and fully present in the moment. 

3.  Repeat the verses below, or something similar if you wish to change it up. These are well wishes for all sentient beings. I will elaborate on their meaning after these instructions. 

May you be free from fear and harm
May you be happy as you are
May you be at peace with whatever comes

4.  First you will be directing these wishes toward yourself. For me, it helps to hold in my mind an image of myself when I was very young. We usually have an easier time forgiving children since they are so innocent. Forgiving and wishing yourself the very best is the most important step in this meditation. Take as much time as you need here and repeat these lines until you feel that you really mean it. You deserve happiness. 

5.  Then bring to mind someone you love dearly. Again, repeat these phrases until it feels authentic.

6. Next, bring to mind someone neutral. It may be someone you have seen often but don't really know. Perhaps someone working at your local supermarket. 

7. And finally, think about the person who you are having difficulty relating to.  Can you direct these well wishes to this person?  It helps me to imagine this person as an innocent child (again, as I do myself) or at least to acknowledge that even though this person's history is unknown, we may have more in common that we think.

May you be free from fear and harm
We can become paralyzed by fear to the point that our lives are very limited, not fully lived.  Holding onto this fear is unhealthy and can actually create energetic disturbances in the body that can lead to physical and mental disease. By wishing for freedom from fear and harm we are trying to let go of fearful beliefs and negativity. Underneath it all is wide-open awareness and a state of equanimity. 

May you be happy as you are
I think this can be interpreted in many ways.  Those of us practicing mindful meditation believe that we ARE wide-open awareness and equanimity is our natural state. By peeling off layers of fear and any other contrived emotional walls we reveal our authentic nature. It is possible for us all to attain, if we practice awareness and can clearly see how certain beliefs are making us feel separate from others. This does not mean that we should adhere to rigid belief systems and never apologize for our behavior.   We must still learn from mistakes and change accordingly, and yield in certain relationships in order to live harmoniously with others. So, this mantra is more about realizing that you are essentially happy, in a state of equanimity, when we drop all our life stories and instead drop into awareness. 

May you be at peace with whatever comes
We can trust in the universe, revel in the mystery, and know that everything happens for a reason. 


After completing this meditation I was able to sleep peacefully.  Now when I think of my child-hating neighbor, I do not feel the same anger and dread.  Instead, I feel sad that she is not able to see the beauty that is in all children, but I respect her need for privacy.  No, I don't think I will be inviting her over for dinner, but we will walk quietly as we pass her home and will ride our bikes elsewhere since there is plenty of space after all.  There is plenty of space for all of us if we are wide open and compassionate inside.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Hello friends, this is my first post in the blogging community. I have resisted starting one for 2 1/2 years now, when my husband first suggested that I use it as a way to document my life as a new mom. Now is the time, but it's not just my need to talk about my wonderful son that is urging me on.

I have been teaching yoga for over 10 years now. At one point, I had close to 10 group and private classes a week. When I became pregnant with my son, I would tell curious students that my postpartum plan was to start teaching again right away and also slowly try to build up my acupuncture practice (I graduated from Traditional Chinese Medicine school when I was 3 months pregnant). Most would say that the plan sounded great, but their expressions were doubtful. Boy, was I naive! These students knew me well, and I think I became the type of mom that they thought I would be. I dropped everything but one private session per week. The rest of my time has been devoted to caring for my son, husband, and our home. I see yogic lessons from homemaking and parenting every day! I am living my yoga now. Still, I miss my old students and the lessons that I would share during our contemplative yin yoga practice.

I am still not ready to teach group classes. My acupuncture practice is really, really small and I don't have office space ( I do house calls). So, I'm not where I thought I would be, but my life right now feels really good regardless. I am balanced, except for this urge I have to relay yogic insights of my life to others and share what I'm learning as I continue to study TCM. I've decided to place my insights and teachings right here in this blog space. It will ease my mind and perhaps someone, somewhere, may appreciate a story or more!